The evolving support for queer people in regional SA
Sean Tosold is doing the best he can to ensure queer people in regional South Australia can feel proud and supported, so no one has to hide the way he did.
Sean Tosold is working to be a role model for LGBTQIA+ youth in regional SA. Photo: Our Town Cummins Facebook
Growing up in Leigh Creek, the Our Town Cummins peer support connector never saw much representation of the LGBTQIA+ community that he is now a part of.
“You just learnt to live the straight life, and go on with life,” he said.
Tosold moved to Cummins on the Eyre Peninsula in 1996, marrying a local girl and having two children, until eight years ago he made the decision to come out as gay.
“I couldn’t do it any more, for my mental health,” he said.
“It was a bit of a culture shock because everyone knew me as Sean, Millie’s husband… and then I became just, the gay bloke. I had to really prove that I had a voice and I had something to give to the community.”
Tosold told InDaily he initially left Cummins for three years after coming out, hoping to find a community in Adelaide as he thought he was not welcome in the regional town.
“That didn’t really work out as well as I hoped, so I came back and I thought, you know what? It’s my home town. If they don’t like it they can leave,” he said.
Beyond feeling unwelcome in the community, one of the major issues Sean faced when he came out was a lack of local support.
“When I came out I had absolutely nowhere to go. I googled and it came up with some op shops, Lincoln Hospital, and Saint John’s Ambulance.”
Tosold decided to make his own support, creating a private LGBTQIA+ Eyre Peninsula Facebook group, where people come for conversation, support and social events.
“It’s amazing. We’ve had people move into town and just google LGBTQ in the area and this pops up,” he said.
Tosold now works as a peer support connector at Our Town Cummins, where he set up a Gender Sexuality Alliance group (GSA) for young people in the area.
Tosold said the GSA came about after young people who were questioning their sexuality came to him, concerned their friends were judging them as they struggled to come to terms with their own identities.
Our Town Cummins provides support for those in the community across a range of areas, including mental health. Photo: Our Town Cummins Facebook
Now the parents of young people are coming to Tosold separately, concerned they will not be equipped to support their children if they come out as part of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Tosold told InDaily a grandma in the community had come to him, thinking her grandson may be gay.
“I said, well it’s really his story to tell. just be there for him when he’s ready to tell you,” he said.
Our Town Cummins guardian Emma Gale said having a “role model” like Tosold in the community had been great for the Our Town organisation.
“He is working really hard in being a face in the community that is out and gay, so that other people feel comfortable, and they can see that he’s successful and he’s got a great life and good people around him,” she said.
Gale said not everybody in the area has been welcoming of Our Town’s focus on LGBTQIA+ support, but it had been “beautiful” to see the support from the town’s young people.
“They are so fluid in how they think, and they’re so much more accepting… they are open to everything” she said.
“I think it’s becoming a lot more celebrated in regional areas. Not everybody is going to be okay with it, and people can have their own opinions. But I think it’s really beautiful that this community is now able to not feel scared and shame for their choices, because they shouldn’t.”